As the "shareholder spring" moves into summer, there are signs that the focus on the pay of chief executives may be widening.
So far all the scalps claimed have been of those in the top job. The next target is likely to be Sir Martin Sorrell of global advertising group WPP next week for his £13 million package in 2011.
However, a report out today focuses on the remuneration of FTSE-100 finance directors, who have also been doing very nicely, thank you. Last year, the chief bean counters at the UK's top companies enjoyed a 9.5% rise in pay and bonuses. Yet these are often the very people who condemn ordinary workers to pay packages that do not even keep pace with inflation: pay cuts by another name. The study by Income Data Services finds median annual income for a finance director has risen to £1.6m.
Around 72% of the British public believe high pay makes Britain grossly unequal and 57% want pay more closely linked to performance, according to an ICM poll. There is little evidence that people object to genuine wealth creators being well rewarded. But in many of Britain's big companies the link between pay and performance is tenuous at best. Frequently finance directors appear to be rewarded for little more than managing decline, a job that carries little personal risk.
Interestingly, today's figures show basic pay rises were modest, but bonuses for those holding the purse strings shot up to 127% of salary last year.
A bonus should be a modest additional payment that is directly linked to performance. The inflation of bonuses looks like a blatant attempt to boost earnings by the back door, at a time when shareholder values have been generally depressed.
The losers in this process are ordinary pensioners and investors. Increasingly, the shareholders, great and small, appear ready to flex their muscles on this issue, along with the notorious "golden hello" and termination payment. If the widening gap between the general public and the corporate elite is to be tackled, there must be three watchwords: accountability, transparency and fairness.
The Queen's Speech unveiled a bill to make shareholder votes on directors' pay binding. Draft proposals are due later this month. Given the notorious inertia of absentee shareholders, there is an argument for making the threshold for acceptance of top pay packages 75%.
Shareholders must be able to see at a glance the total remuneration packages proposed for the top team. Some companies argue that they have to offer such packages to attract or retain top talent and transparency merely encourages pay inflation.
We dispute both these contentions. Capitalism does not operate like golf's "rich list" and the pension funds and life companies that manage the savings of millions of ordinary people need transparency to engage with the businesses they own and hold remuneration committees to account.
There is the simple issue of fairness and what a person is worth, at a time when ordinary workers are suffering as a direct result of the financial crisis.
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